Panel lays down gillnet regulations
DLNR will curtail "curtains of death," as critics call them
Lay gillnet fishing will be prohibited around Maui and portions of Oahu's coast, a state board decided yesterday.
Where permitted, the nets cannot be used at night or left in place longer than four hours, and they must be checked every 30 minutes for air-breathing animals such as sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals, according to new Board of Land and Natural Resources rules approved yesterday.
New rules for gillnets -- pending review by the attorney general's and governor's offices -- are:
» No use on Maui or on Oahu in Kaneohe Bay between the two ship channels, Kailua Bay or South Oahu between Portlock Point and Pearl Harbor channel.
» Four-hour maximum set time, with net checks every 30 minutes.
» Owner identification on all nets.
» State conservation officers can confiscate illegally deployed or abandoned nets.
» No use of nets in stream mouths.
On the Net
Gillnets also must not be longer than 125 feet and must have owner identification tags and buoys to help conservation enforcement officers catch offenders. The rules take effect after final review by the attorney general's and governor's offices.
Department of Land and Natural Resources Director Peter Young hailed the rules as properly curbing what "can be a wasteful fishing technique if not used responsibly."
"It's about time," said Louie "The Fish" Denolfo, a fisher and snorkeler from Maui who says he is depressed by the lack of fish in Hawaii nearshore waters.
But Tony Costa, a spokesman for the group Hawaii Nearshore Fishermen, said the regulations are akin to "closing the freeway to deal with some speeders."
And Toni Lee, president of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, said the decision will "make criminals of" Hawaiian fishers who use the technique to feed their families.
The fishing method involves nets that are suspended in the water like a curtain, with floats on the top and weights on the bottom. Fish that swim into the nets are caught by the gills and cannot get back out.
Detractors of the method have referred to it as "a curtain of death" and have pointed to the recent tangling death of an endangered Hawaiian monk seal pup in a gillnet off Waimanalo as a demonstration of the nickname.
The Land Board's move yesterday was hailed by a number of conservation groups that have been pushing for greater restrictions on the nets, including KAHEA (the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance), the Hawaii Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy.
Sam Gon III, a Land Board member who works for the Nature Conservancy, recused himself from voting on the rules. Remaining members of the board voted unanimously to approve new lay gillnet guidelines.
After more than three hours of testimony yesterday, the Land Board also approved sending out additional changes to the gillnet rules for public hearings. Those include:
» Allowing the island of Molokai to have larger nets and longer set times, in keeping with its current self-governing practices.
» Having the new rules "sunset," or end, in five years, unless continued or modified by the board.
» Allowing use of gillnets halfway across stream mouths.
"No matter what the outcome of the meeting today, I was committed to continuing to talk with fishers, the Hawaiian community and others" about further adjustments to the rules, the DLNR's Young said.